tonight on "nightline," the nukes next door. american nuclear plants with missing fuel pellets, leaking pipes. faulty generators. as the crisis in japan raises serious concerns, what is the safety record of the reactors here in the united states? we have the details. tea party superstar. he's 39 years old and the hottest newcomer on capitol hill. but senator marco rubio's kept a low profile, until now. tonight, his first national tv interview since being elected. so, is he running for president? and, surfer girl. bethany hamilton was just 13 when a shark attack captured headlines and changed her life forever. she's riding high once again, and we've got the incredible
story of her long fight to get back in the water. >> announcer: from the global resources of abc news, with terry moran, cynthia mcfadden and bill weir in new york city, this is "nightline," march 29th, 2011. >> good evening. i'm terry moran. we're going to begin with the revelation of a record of safety violations at america's nuclear plants. the united states is home to 104 reactors across 31 states. some of them located on fault lines. but nuclear regulatory commission safety records show more than 50 safety violations at u.s. nuclear plants from 2007 through 2011. and now there's a move on capitol hill to block licenses for new plants. here's pierre thomas with our report. >> reporter: this is the dresden nuclear power plant in illinois. located within 50 miles of the 9 million people who live in and around chicago.
but less than two years ago, in 2009, the nuclear regulatory commission cited them for allowing unlicensed operators to work with radioactive control rods. the workers allowed three radioactive control rods to be moved out of the reactor core when they should not have been. worse, the workers initially ignored alarms. that wasn't the only problem at dresden. four years ago in 2007, nuclear material literally went missing from the plant. federal regulators fined the company, saying it failed to keep complete records showing the inventory and disposal of all special nuclear material. >> history tells us that utilities, some utilities, cut corners, and then when the day of reckoning arrives, they won't be ready to respond in the same way that the utility executives in japan were not ready to respond. >> reporter: today, officials from dresden issued a statement to abc news acknowledging the
vi violations and saying they took them seriously. company officials say the public nor the employers were at risk. these violations show the industry may not be prepared to deal with a catastrophic event. like a hurricane, tornado, or massive earthquake. and so today, congressman ed markey introduced a bill, calling for a moratorium on new licenses for nuclear power plants. abc news examined nrc safety inspections dating back to 2007 and found a litany of shoddy safety work at the nation's nuclear power plants. june 2009, edwin in backly, georgia, issued a citation after an emergency diesel generator was found inoperable, after years of possible neglect. the report states that unrepaired cracks in the structure had been observed since 1998. april 18th, 2010, the nrc cited the tennessee valley authority for failing to provide fire protection features capable of limiting fire damage at the browns ferry nuclear plant near chattanooga, tennessee. >> i don't think that any new licenses should be granted until
all of the lessons of fukushima are built into the new plants in the united states. >> reporter: the events of the last few weeks at the fukushima plant provide an eerie warning. there, officials ignored a series of safety infractions for years and continued to be vague about the damage to reactors even after the devastating earthquake. a document in the wikileaks cache revealed there were concerns about the safety of the japanese nuclear program and the government was covering up safety problems. case in point, the indian point nuclear plant just outside new york city. it's equipped with an earthquake safety device that would help keep water from leaking out of the reactor if something catastrophic happens. but the nrc found that the safety device is leaking, and believe it or not it's been leaking for 18 years. a lack of water to cool the fuel rods has been the most critical policemen at the fukushima plant in japan after the earthquake. last week, a spokesman for entergy, the company that owns the plant, said the leakage has been captured, analyzed and
determined to pose no safety iss issue. the nrc declined an abc news request for an interview. but in recent testimony, the agency declared the nation's nuclear power plants safe and ready for catastrophic events. including earthquakes. >> i'm quite confident, we've looked at all the information that we're getting from japan. we've looked at the design basis for the u.s. reactors. we continue with the inspection program and we have a high degree of confidence that the 104 currently operating reactors, there's an adequate basis to assure adequate protection. >> reporter: that's a categorical statement. some fear far too categorical and too rosy a picture given past history. for "nightline", i'm pierre thomas in washington. >> we want to tell you that the nuclear energy institute said it would have appeared on camera but our request tonight came too late for them. in a statement, they said that nrc reports to congress in the
last five years show no abnormal occurrences at u.s. nuclear plants, and they continue, america's reactors produce 20% of all our electricity at world class safety levels. thanks to pierre thomas for that report. and just ahead, is the tea party golden boy with a knack for winning elections running for president? we ask him. ♪ [ male announcer ] you like who you are... the man you've become. and you learned something along the way. about the world. and yourself. ♪ this is the age of knowing what you're made of. and knowing how to get things done. so, why would you let something like erectile dysfunction get in your way? isn't it time you talked to your doctor about viagra? 20 million men already have. with every age comes responsibility. ask your doctor if your heart is healthy enough for sex. do not take viagra if you take nitrates for chest pain,
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ago now that a young legislator from illinois carried that mantle and now he answers to the title mr. president. here's jonathan karl with the first national tv interview with senator rubio since his arrival in washington. >> reporter: he is the biggest republican star in congress, but you wouldn't know it by seeing his office. across from the stationary shop, past the forklift operator is the windowless space senator rubio shares with his staff. this is the digs? >> for now, yeah. >> reporter: this is your staff, all jammed into this one space. >> that's right. yeah. taxpayer dollars at work. >> reporter: few new stores arrived in washington with more fanfare. toppled a republican governor and was the original tea partier. though his musical taste doesn't exactly scream right wing. on his play list? hip hop. do you know -- the camera -- i may not want to tell you who my new favorite is. she's really good, though.
nicki minaj. she's good, i'm just embarrassed. i mean, maybe -- i probably hurt her record sales, i don't know. she's funny. news fly with the stars in the skies ♪ >> reporter: that's right this is what he listens to. nicky minage aside, conservatives started talking rubio for president even before he won his senate seat. but in the month since, rubio's kept the lowest of profiles, focusing on florida and turning down all national tv interviews until now. senator rubio invited us to spend a couple days with him. for a behind the scenes look at the life of a freshman senator. where you have to wait months before you get a chance to choose your real office. you're not going to have a lot to choose from -- >> here's the deal. these are the members that are left to pick, so, right now, we're on 85. each of them will go pick and then, you know, i'm here at 95.
i'm actually 95. >> reporter: that's not bad. >> did i move up? did something happen overnight? >> reporter: he's only been here 11 weeks, but he already attracts more attention than his more powerful colleagues. on the way to one meeting, he passed by a plaque marking the office of the last senator to come to washington with so much fanfare. >> we're lost. we're still learning the building. we know where obama's office was, though, president obama. >> reporter: rubio is unflin unflinchingly conservative. the photograph in his office? newt gingrich. his parents fled castro's cuba, his dad going to work as a bar tender in vegas, wishing for his son that one day he'd have a job where he'd wear a suit to work. >> i still get goose bumps when i see the capital. even when i walk on the senate floor. it's like, man, two decades ago, my dad was serving drinks at
sam's town off the vegas strip and his son is now, you know, one of 100 americans that gets to influence important public policy. >> reporter: and he doesn't want to wait long to do it. the traditional u.s. senate thing is, you are here for two terms, halfway through your third term you start to get enough seniority to impact the place. >> right. well, i mean, i think that's still the case in many respects. on the other hand, issues that led me to run are front and center. and i can't just say, well, i'm going to sit out these issues because, you know, i'm working on some differential plan to fit in the senate. >> reporter: rubio's already lined up against gop leaders mitch mcconnell and john boehner, voting no on their most recent government funding bill because he says it doesn't cut spending enough. in miami, he told us he will next take a hard line against raising the national debt limit. something the administration says must be done to avoid an economic crisis. >> the reality is, our government spending money it
doesn't have. it doing it at an alarming pace and there's no plan to stop it. >> reporter: he may irritate party leadership, but not this guy. >> marco rubio says what is this continuing resolution crap? i didn't come in here to fund the government every two to three weeks and cut $6 billion here and there what is hell is going on here? wish the guy would run for president. >> i just got elected three months ago. how can i be a full-time united states senator if my eye is on running for something else. >> reporter: that's a reason for not doing it. would you say you're not ready? >> well it doesn't necessarily prepare you to be president. >> reporter: do you rule it out? is there absolutely no way? >> even speculating about it is problematic. when you speculate about it, what you are saying, is i'm thinking about something other than the job -- >> reporter: would you rule it out? >> you are.
>> reporter: we could end all speculation now. >> i'm not running for president in 2012. i want to be a united states senator. i want to be the best united states senator florida's ever had. >> reporter: his answer is less definitive when asking about being a vice presidential candidate. >> i wouldn't want to be that, because i'm focused on this job. i certainly feel that way right now. >> reporter: you said i think and you feel that way right now. so, there's a chance that could change. >> i don't think i'm going to be asked. but that being said, i'm focused on the job. i know this is the kind of back and forth that goes on in politics but the reality is, i'm focused on being the best senator from florida that can i be. >> reporter: but he's now focusing his most stinging political attacks on president obama. >> i hope he doesn't get re-elected and the reason is because i think his policies are bad for america's economy and america's future. he would disagree, he thinks the policies are working. i think the evidence shows they're not. government spending created jobs and opportunity, america would
be leading the world in job creation right now. i hope he loses his elections, not because he's a democrat, but because policies are bad for america. >> reporter: a debate he says he will continue to have, but from the united states senate, not the campaign trail. i'm jonathan karl for "nightline" in miami. >> look for jon's full interview on abcnews.com/nightline. thanks to jon for that. and coming up, we turn to the incredible story of a terrible shark attack and the inspiring young surfer girl who left it all in her wake. depression is a serious medical condition.
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tonight, she shares her story with us, a story she's still writing, most days, with a board on the face of a wave. here's abbey abbey boudreau. >> reporter: surfing is second nature to bethany hamiltohamilt. so much so, it's hard no notice there's something different to her. >> i just had to adapt to this new change in my body. >> reporter: much is the same, but so much has changed. since that halloween morning 7 1/2 years ago. 13-year-old bethany hamilton was surfing with friends when a tiger shark came out of nowhere and ripped off her left arm. >> you know how you eat a piece of steak, you kind of go -- it was kind of like that. and then i looked down at the water and it was really red from all the blood. >> reporter: when you look back to that day of the shark attack, would you change things if you could? >> i definitely would allow the shark attack to happen. and i know that god allowed it
to happen. and because of all the good stuff that has come from this terrible experience. >> reporter: and now, a grown-up bethany is riding the red carpet to promote the movie "soul surfer." you're 21 years old and there's a movie of your life. what's that like? >> i grew up in hawaii. my family and i have a pretty humble life style and everything just changed after the shark attack. >> reporter: bethany helped select annie sophia rob, the actress who plays her. >> she's playing me when i was younger. >> i was so shocked she could get back in the water after something like that happened to her. >> call 11. >> reporter: the shack attack scene lasts for mere seconds. >> it's not hard for me to watch, and i see it, it's exactly how it happened. >> how can this be god's plan for me? >> reporter: much of the movie deals with her faith. and her return to surfing. tell us about the day that you
decided to go back into the water. >> i kind of struggled and didn't get up. and then i got up on my third wave and rode it all the way to the beach. >> reporter: and surf again she did. as the film shows, she fought her way back into the competitive surfing world. >> bethany hamilton is holding nothing back. >> reporter: in real life, bethany took the silver at the world junior championships. >> the inspirational, if you will, bethany hamilton. >> reporter: does it feel so different now or are you so used to being on the surf board without your other arm? >> yeah, i'm pretty used to it. it's been seven to eight years, i like, forget what it used to be like. >> reporter: she did her own stunt work for the movie and helped anna sophia robb learn to surf and get over her fear of sharks. >> i figure if she can still get back out there and not worry, then i should be able to, as well. >> reporter: when we met her
near san francisco, the water wasn't exactly inviting. so, how do the waves look today? >> it looks a little cold. we're here in northern california and -- i don't know how i'll do but i'm going to just get wet. >> reporter: it was 48 degrees. unlike the locals, she didn't have a hood or booties, but she still gave it her all. what do you have to say to people who watch your movie and are inspired by what you were able to accomplish? >> little kids have creams, and i think they should just go for it and not let the world tell them what they can and cannot do. >> reporter: if anyone can proof of that, bethany is. i'm abbey boudreau for "nightline" in half moon bay, california. >> what a great story. the movie "soul surfer" is in theaters next month. thanks to abbie for that. thank you for watching abc news. we hope you'll tune in for "good morning america".